By Carol Lynn Pearson
I wrote a little poem, and often I found myself reading it over the phone to women who called me needing to share a heavy burden.
You have come in
Like a wounded animal
That crawls into a log
Do not think me
It’s just that I have
Been through it
So many times
And seen it
So many times
And know I’ll see it again.
I will hold your hand.
But if you see me
Smiling just a little
While you’re writhing and torn,
That I know labor pains
When I see them—
And frankly, I can’t wait
To see what is struggling
To be born.
Sometimes I’ve recited these words to myself when I’ve been left holding my heart and grieving after a new distress. And I’ve said to women and men alike, “All pain can be labor pain.”
For several months now, I have stood disoriented as I have watched something about which I cannot say, “I have been through it so many times and seen it so many times . . .” This particular thing I have never seen before—the wounding of something much larger than an individual life—the wounding of a nation’s integrity, grace, unity—the wounding of so many ideas I saluted back in high school in the little speech I was so proud of: “I Speak for Democracy.”
My country is writhing and torn. I have felt an impulse to crawl into a log, crawl under my blankets, cover my eyes, and not watch a frightening scene play out.
Birth can be bloody. If we came upon a woman howling in labor, never having seen the sight before, we might think it death. All pain can be labor pain. Truly today that is the only thought that lifts my heart—that we can work with the pain and not against it—that our collective labor can deliver a new life, perhaps birth an even stronger body to house the spirit of America.
Labor is work. Labor is leaning in. On January 21st I stood in the mud and walked in the rain in downtown Walnut Creek as part of the Women’s March on Washington. Lucy, a young woman in my ward, managed to get to three marches that day—Walnut Creek, Oakland, and San Francisco. Labor enough for one day. A few months ago the Young Women in our ward presented the sacrament meeting program and Lucy gave the final talk. Among other things she said:
My name is Lucy Siale. I am 15 years old. I am Tongan. Being a young woman of color in the United States right now is not exactly easy. I spend my time taking part in political activism, running my intersectional feminist club at school, and writing sacrament talks. I love singing, writing—and Girls Camp. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am a child of Heavenly Parents who love me. And I, along with my sisters sitting on the stand behind me, are all—enough. None of us is alone. We are the women of the future of our world. And we are enough.
Everything we see in this world—even ourselves, our bodies—is temporary. Everything is in the process of becoming. A friend reminded me, “Nothing is the end of the world—except for the end of the world.” And for those of us committed to eternity, even the end of the world is not the end. Another friend, a woman in my ward, said, “I can’t worry about what’s going on in Washington. I know that we are living in the Last Days. I know that very soon Jesus will return and all will be well. Everything now is in his hands.”
Unless, perhaps, Jesus is counting on our hands to be his hands—our feet to be his feet—our words to be his words. Jesus spoke sharply against the political and religious leaders of his day. He was a social revolutionary who boldly spoke out against inequality, condemned the oppressor, warned against riches, embraced the outcast, insisted that we care for the poor, the sick, the stranger, and asked us to remember that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . . ye have done it unto me.”
And this is the thing we must not forget: the most powerful, consistent message of Jesus of Nazareth was love. Love even your enemies. I ask for his words today and I hear, spoken to everyone across the political spectrum: Love those who voted for someone you did not vote for. Bless those that curse you and your ideals. Do good to those who serve causes you feel are not right. Pray for them that you believe are using you and your country badly. Never stop working for justice, speak clearly and boldly, but let every act and every word come from love.
That daunting command takes my breath away. But it has helped me to salvage a very important relationship. Someone dear to me is a strong and vocal believer in things I do not believe in, and I have wept over the conflict this has brought. A few weeks ago I hugged this dear one and said, “No matter what, you and I are family. We will always be family and we will always love each other.” We have shared many hugs since then.
So on the micro level, I see nothing to do but to try, even imperfectly, to respond to Jesus’ no-loopholes insistence that we bring only love to the table. A number of the signs at the Women’s March spoke the truth that “Love Is Stronger than Hate.”
And on the macro level, Jesus calls us to toss aside the bushel under which we may have been hiding and show our light to the world. Engage as we feel called to engage. Speak as we feel called to speak. Be a part, in our own chosen way, of the large wave that is rising in response to the wave that brought things we cannot accept.
And then have confidence that light is indeed stronger than darkness, that this human drama will not have a tragic end—and yes, that all pain can be labor pain.
There’s another little verse I wrote long ago that also serves me at midnight. It has the same theme, really, as the one I used at the beginning. Two little poems. Two witnesses speaking of hope.
The little grain of sand
And an ancient urge
Begins its work.
I, the unhappy oyster
Settle in the sea and curl
Defensive lustre after lustre
Around the pain—
Pregnant with pearl.